Venus, Jupiter Light up the July Night Sky

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Jupiter as imaged by NASA's Cassini probe
Jesse Richuso

Welcome to the first Carolina Skies blog post! I'm Jesse Richuso, educator at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Morehead is partnering with WRAL to keep you up to date on the night sky.  I'll be writing about what's up in our sky, with topics ranging from constellations and planets to meteor showers and eclipses.

Planet Watch

Venus has been a spectacular sight in the western sky just after sunset for a few months now.  It is the brightest star-like object in the night sky, and is often confused for a plane coming in for landing or occasionally something more exotic (the frequency of "strange lights" calls to Morehead drastically increases when Venus is positioned favorably in the sky). Venus is gradually getting closer to the Sun in our sky, and will soon be out of sight for a month or so, lost in the Sun's glare. It will reappear in September's early morning sky.

I've had a few conversations with skywatchers who are astounded both by Venus's brightness and its apparent lack of motion. "It's a bright light that just sits there!" I've heard many times. Well, Venus is actually moving, along the rest of the sky, as the Earth rotates and causes everything in the sky to move from east to west.  We can't observe the motion in realtime because it moves so slowly, but if you view it periodically, say every half hour for a few hours, you'll be able to observe movement, including Venus setting under the western horizon.

Jupiter is bright and easily visible in the southern sky, near the constellation Scorpius, before it sets around 2 a.m. You can see Jupiter’s four largest moons (Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa) through a telescope or even just a powerful pair of binoculars.  A telescope can also resolve the colorful bands of gas in Jupiter's atmosphere.

Mars continues to rise in the early morning hours. Look for it to stand out in the eastern sky before sunrise. If you don't want to wake up that early to see Mars, you'll have to wait a few months. By December, Mars will rise just after sunset.  It will gradually get brighter as the Earth "catches up" to Mars as we orbit around the Sun and get a closer look at the Red Planet.

In mid to late July we are treated to Mercury's best morning appearance all year, but it's still a challenge to observe. Look for it very low in the east-northeast just before sunrise.  You'll need a very clear and flat eastern horizon.

Moon Phases in July
  • Last Quarter: Saturday, July 7
  • New Moon: Saturday, July 14
  • First Quarter: Sunday, July 22
  • Full Moon: Sunday, July 29
Watch WRAL's Morning News on Saturday, July 21 and Saturday, August 11 for on-air Carolina Skies segments.  Also, feel free to submit questions to the "Ask Morehead Planetarium and Science Center" blog.  Visit for information on our planetarium shows, exhibits, and programs.

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